Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cyber Charter Schools: a wrecking ball for public education

Albertans place a premium on public education.

This is precisely why it is important for Alberta to see the United States and their education reforms as a cautionary tale and that the border offers zero insulation from policies that undermine and privatize public education.

This is why the Parkland Institute's most recent research Delivery Matters: Cyber Charter Schools and K-12 Education in Alberta is so important. I blog almost daily about how and why school needs to be a little less like school, and I am an advocate for substantial improvements to public education, teacher quality and equity.

However, I don't want my criticisms for school to come across like I don't like public education or that I want to destroy it. Unfortunately, too much of what is sold as education reform amounts to nothing more than a wrecking ball for public education which is precisely what Cyber Charters represent.

The report states:
While research on student outcomes remains preliminary, cyber charter schools have a patchy record, including significant risk of poorer education outcomes and very high rates of withdrawal. They also fail to address what the public school system has long taught as the skills of citizenship — how to get along with others, how to reason and deliberate, how to tolerate differences. From this perspective, cyber charter schools risk leaving large gaps in the education of young people. 
The US experience with cyber charter schools makes clear that the private delivery of public education is a risky path. There is little evidence to demonstrate that corporate interests add value in training the compassionate, skilled, and technically savvy citizens of the future. Instead, the cyber charter schools model encourages profiteering and mismanagement at public expense and at significant risk to students.
Alberta Teachers' Association Mark Ramsankar agrees with the report and states, "Cyber charter schools undermine the critical role of the student-teacher relationship in child development and socialization." 

In a statement, the Alberta Teachers' Association rightfully identifies that "the Parkland report demonstrates that the vision of Inspiring Education would be compromised by introducing cyber charter schools, where students rarely hear from their teachers and only occasionally interact face-to-face."

In her best-selling book Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools, Diane Ravitch dedicates an entire chapter on busting the myth that "virtual schools will bring the promise of personalized, customised learning to every student and usher in an age of educational excellence for all." Ravitch begins her chapter by rightfully outlining, however briefly, the promise of technology, but then warns:
Yet with all its great potential, technology can never substitute for inspired teaching. Students will respond with greater enthusiasm to a gifted teacher than to a computer with the world's best software. Electronic technology has its charms, but it can't compete with the lively interchange of ideas that happens when students discuss a book they read or a math problem they wrestled with or a play they saw or an unsolved mystery in history or the most recent elections. Ultimately, it is imagination, joy, and disciplined inquiry that makes education valuable, that distinguish real education from seat time, that constitute the difference between learning and a credential. 
Closer to home, the Alberta Teachers' Association's Phil McRae wrote a profound piece on the Rebirth of the Teaching Machine through the Seduction of Data Analytics where he outlines how the move to personalize learning with "any time, any place and any pace" is anything but new. His concluding paragraph speaks volumes:
Emerging technologies and smart data certainly have a place in educational transformation, but they must be employed to enhance what research in the learning sciences continues to reinforce as the foundation of learning: the pedagogical relationships between students, teachers, parents and community. Attempts to displace this human dimension of learning with the teaching machine (whatever you imagine this to be) is a distraction to the most important support great schools can offer students each and every day – relationships, relationships, relationships.

1 comment:

  1. Joe, thanks for this blog. Governments like to jump on bandwagons, especially ones that promote using technology and can be seen as cost cutting. Nothing will replace the one on one contact a classroom teacher can provide. Face to face contact is very important for students!
    Knowing you personally, I agree that you are one of the biggest proponents of public education I have met.


Follow by Email